Studying Language and Literature at A Level: Jane Bluett Reflects on the Benefits of the Integrated Approach of A Level English Language and Literature

Article excerpt

This year's new assessment objectives for the three English A Levels place an understanding of language at the heart of each English A Level:

Lit: AO2--Demonstrate detailed critical understanding
in analysing the ways in which structure, form and
language shape meanings in literary texts

Lang/Lit: AO2--Demonstrate detailed critical
understanding in analysing the ways in which
structure, form and language shape meanings in a
range of spoken and written texts

Language: AO2--Demonstrate critical understanding
of a range of concepts and issues relating to the
construction and analysis of meanings in spoken and
written language, using knowledge of linguistic
approaches

Nevertheless, we still teach in a world where most students of English at A Level only study English Literature. Why it should be the case that the most specialised and arguably exclusive strand of A Level English retains this privileged position is debatable but a few conversations with this year's new intake at my college suggest possible solutions:

'I came to college because they don't teach English
Language at school.'

'They only teach Literature at my school. My teacher
said it's more important'

'My school said universities don't accept English
Language'

'Is it ok to take both English language and English
literature?'

Traditionally the majority of English A Level teachers are English Literature graduates. A head-inthesand approach to both the current profile of English Studies at university and the undoubted benefits of incorporating language study into our approaches to literature teaching post sixteen would appear to be skewing the experience of our students and, I would argue, our teachers.

As a teacher of literature, I have found myself, and many colleagues, imploring students 'not to forget A03' (now A02), in effect reminding students yet again that they need to say something about a writer's use of language, structure and form. As a teacher of language and lang/lit, it has baffled me how you can say anything about literature without mentioning it. Surely, when faced with a text, that's all there is. The study of language use must be integral to the study of literary writing. it is the writer's tool of the trade.

Giving students the opportunity to explore language in all its varieties, not simply literature, whether it be through a language or a lang/lit A Level, can only enhance their experience of literary text. To study drama without some knowledge of the way that speech and conversation work, to study poetry without an understanding of grammar and the sound patterning of language, or to study prose without exploring the human instinct for narrative seems absurd--but where in the literature scheme of work is the space to do this justice? …

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